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Chapter 13

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Great Iron Trail

by
Robert West Howard

G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 15

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p173 Chapter XIV
Red Block

There is not a tribe of Indians on the great plains or in the mountain regions east of Nevada and Idaho but which is warring on the whites. The first demand of the Indian is that the white man shall not come into his country; shall not kill or drive off the game upon which his subsistence depends and shall not dispossess him of his lands. How can we promise this, with any hope or purpose of fulfilling the obligation, unless we prohibit immigration and settlement west of the Missouri River? . . . General Pope to the United States War Department (1865).

The vision of the Pacific Railroad lured idealists and profound individualists for 50 years. Thomas Benton, Asa Whitney, Brigham Young, Theodore Judah, Collis Huntington and Thomas Durant were cut from other than prototype molds for either "American" or "frontiersman." During the five-year race toward Promontory Point, Dodge, Montague, the Casement Brothers, Reed, and the survey crews, Mormon graders, and heroic Chinese "coolies," would demonstrate similar rare virtues of individualism and initiative. Such an array, playing leading roles in one of the mightiest dramas of the nation's history, demanded a comic bouffe relief. This was the character part for Colonel Silas Seymour. He played it with such pomp p174that, on at least three occasions, he veered the drama toward tragedy.

Across "darkest Nebraska," the Black Hills, Wyoming's desert bowl and the Wasatch canyons,º Silas Seymour bumbled up to railheads, his umbrella at full balloon, a bedroll puffing up from his saddle like an immense denim bustle. His sparse goatee and gray pompadour completed the make-up of a high-plains Don Quixote. The profundity of his deliberations, like his assaults on technical windmills, paralyzed construction for months at a time.

"Colonel Seymour," Sam Reed wrote to his family from Wyoming, "was outfitted after the following style. First the horse . . . was twin brother to old 'Knockumstuff.' On the . . . saddle . . . was his carbine . . . to be convenient in case of sudden Indian attack; also his poncho, bed, etc., in bulk about a barrel, leaving very little room for the Colonel. When mounted, he would hoist his umbrella and leisurely follow in the wake of the escort or perhaps leading them a few paces. The Pawnee made fun of him from beginning to end."

His convictions were in character too. Silas Seymour had never been able to accept the crosstie as the logical support for T‑rails, so still advocated the use of parallel timbers without crossties as the best rail base. Locomotives, he advised the Federal inspectors in 1865, should be "from 28 to 30 tons, with five-foot drivers, cylinders 16 by 24 inches for first-class roads of ordinary grades." In 1903‑4 when the Harriman regime modernized Union Pacific's roadbed and equipment, two of the major reroutes ordered were to eliminate 20 miles of the haul over Carbon Summit, between the Laramie River and the Rattlesnake Hills, and then save another 14 miles by rerouting between Omaha and Elkhorn Creek. The shift in the Carbon Summit approach restored the route originally ordered by Grenville Dodge, but changed by Seymour to the longer meander. The Omaha-Elkhorn Creek rerouting restored the grade Peter Dey built during the fall months of 1864, and Seymour ordered abandoned. "Seymour seems to be determined p175to delay the work as much as possible," Reed complained. "The object apparently is to injure somebody's reputation."

Still, Seymour as "consulting engineer" and "acting chief engineer" suited Durant. Union Pacific needed powerful allies in both major political parties — not only for fund-raising prestige but for those "back-room" conferences that enable favourable interpretation of the 1864 Act. During 1863‑4, Horatio Seymour had served again as New York's governor. After General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan's defeat by Lincoln in the 1864 election, Horatio had become a "senior statesman" of the Democratic party and a logical candidate for the Presidency in 1868. He was worthy of discreet cultivation by Union Pacific's hierarchy. And, Durant could have reasoned, there would be no easier path to Horatio's favors than the appointment of plump, pompous Brother Silas as consulting engineer.

Grenville Dodge claimed, in various autobiographical writings, that Durant repeatedly offered him the post of chief engineer during 1863‑4‑5. Samuel B. Reed claimed that during Christmas week, 1865, Durant offered him the choice of chief engineer or superintendent of construction. But there is no evidence that, even in hours of darkest brooding, Durant considered Seymour for this key post until the showdown struggle with Dodge in the summer of 1868. Instead, Silas Seymour was intended to serve in the dual capacity of a political asset and yes man at "the front office." As brother of the potential Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 1868, Silas was an investment in liaison with the Democratic minority of Congress. As a reactionary, with a broad streak of petulance, he served splendidly as the authority to quote whenever Durant's temper unleashed against engineering or construction executives.

Seymour's rejection of the Omaha-Elkhorn grade, and the subsequent resignation of Peter Dey, was the initial use of the "authority" technique by Durant. It was in pattern with his divide-and‑conquer trick for stirring up publicity and stock p176sales in the Iowa and Nebraska towns. Peter Dey's grumbles about Durant had probably echoed back to New York, possibly via Hoxie. Durant knew that Dey had favored Henry Farnam as president or general manager of Union Pacific, and still favored Council Bluffs-Omaha as Union Pacific's Eastern terminal. This would have been reason enough for Durant's trooper to snake toward the conferences that waddled Silas Seymour off to Omaha thoroughly prejudiced against Dey and convinced that the Missouri River bridge should be located at Bellevue.

Seymour's abandonment of the Dey grading set off another volley of protests from Council Bluffs and Omaha. Peter Dey's home town of Iowa City joined them with a petition to the Department of the Interior. A delegation of Federal inspectors reached Omaha in late spring, argued with Seymour, rode along both survey routes, then agreed that Dey's route could be changed "if the Omaha and Elkhorn grades are eliminated." Seymour beamed assent, but held the shovel crews to a route that looped close to the planned west end of Chicago & Northwestern's bridge at Bellevue. His embankment, finally reaching Elkhorn Creek in midsummer, 1865, was 14 miles longer than Dey's and just as steep. The Federal inspectors shrugged and approved it. Tracklaying began in July and ambled west at a pace of not more than 4 miles a month. With Seymour as chief engineer, Union Pacific might reach the 100th meridian sometime in 1870.

However, Seymour had chill reasons for dawdling. Speedy track building would have been impossible in 1865 without a screen of cavalry. Over in the Kansas River Valley, Union Pacific's Eastern Division was being forced to dawdle too. The red block was up. Grenville Dodge and the Galvanized Yankees were out on the high plains trying to end it.

The Sioux Rebellion of 1862‑63 had flamed west across the Dacotah, firing the hatred and fears of the tribes on the Great Desert. Throughout the summer of 1864, war parties p177looted west along the Platte, Kansas and Arkansas valleys. Painted warriors raced ponies around wagon trains in deadly circles; scalping knives dripped blood again. White women and girls who resisted rape were tomahawked; those who didn't were led off to slavery. For weeks the red raiders cut Denver and the Pikes Peak mining towns off from Eastern stage and wagon traffic. Ben Holladay ordered his Overland Stages out of the South Pass country to safer Cheyenne Pass.


[image ALT: A full-length photograph of a man in long uniform overcoat of a Union general of the American Civil War. It is Major General Grenville M. Dodge.]

Grenville M. Dodge in dress uniform as a Major General. Union Pacific Railroad

Meanwhile, Sherman's army besieged Atlanta. Major General Dodge commanded the 16th Corps that withstood the brunt of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hood's counteroffensive. On August 19, 1864, Dodge received an order to prepare the 16th for another effort to smash through Hood's lines and capture the city. "It was two-thirty when I reached the entrenchments," he recalled, "and my line was so exposed that one could not show himself above the entrenchments without being hit. The boys cautioned me, and said that if I wanted to see the enemy, I could look through a peephole they had made under a log. I put my eye to this peephole and the moment I did so, I was shot in the head. I went down immediately."

The rumor reached Council Bluffs that Dodge was dead. He was unconscious for 48 hours; then was jounced back to base hospital in Chattanooga on a hammock slung in a freight car. In November, still a semi-invalid, he was assigned to St. Louis to command the Department of the Missouri. Three weeks later the Sand Creek Massacre of 660 Cheyennes sent new waves of hate across the West. Dodge was ordered to Fort Leavenworth. Early in January, 1865, telegraph orders came from Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.U. S. Grant. The Indians, Grant was convinced, would launch attacks throughout Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. Dodge must beat them to the attacks. That week, from Omaha to Denver, thermometers registered 30 degrees below zero.

The best Army troops then on the high plains were the Secesh veterans nicknamed "the Galvanized Yankees." They had been captured during the Mississippi Valley, Missouri, and Virginia campaigns, or — weary of corn-pone rations and the p178Jeff Davis regime — had followed the Negro exodus to the Union lines and surrendered. The War Department offered them a choice between imprisonment in disease-ridden, quagmire camps like Chicago's Camp Douglas, or enlistment in the regiments serving "beyond the Missouri." Thousands chose the West, and thus released Iowa, Colorado and Minnesota troops for Sherman's March to the Sea and Grant's encirclement of Richmond.

Again, during the crescendo of the New West's finale, Southerners would play folk-hero roles of many kinds, but none contributed more to the final conquest than the Galvanized Yankees who kept the Union's life lines open across the plains and mountains during the crucial years of 1865‑70.

The Galvanized Yanks out of Forts Leavenworth, Sibley and Kearney followed Dodge in a show of force up the Platte during February. Temperatures averaged from 5 to 10 below. When the Overland Telegraph crackled to life again at Omaha, Edward Creighton, the general manager, notified the War Department. Back came the query: Where is Dodge? Creighton chuckled as he dictated the reply: Nobody knows where he is, but everybody knows where he's been. After a few skirmishes, the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho retreated across the Black Hills to the Yellowstone and Powder River valleys. The Pawnee decided to fight on the Union's side. On Dodge's order, Major Frank North recruited the first companies of Pawnee Scouts. They joined his expedition out of Fort Laramie, with glum Jim Bridger as guide, for a reconnaissance in force against the 500 lodges of the Sioux.

Again the wagon trains set out from Atchison, St. Joseph, Leavenworth and Omaha, but with "hired guns" as scouts and night guards. Ben Holladay also posted guards armed with shotguns, as well as revolvers, atop every Overland stage. Storekeepers and wholesale provisioners kept prices Pikes-Peak high. At Denver in late May, 1865, potatoes were $15 a bushel, flour was 15¢ and 20¢ a pound, corn $10 a bushel, beef 40¢ a pound, and ham 45¢ to 50¢ a pound. Along the p179Platte, stagecoach stations and Army posts paid $100 a ton for hay and $75 a cord for firewood.

The advent of the Pacific Railroad was a major and direct cause of the Indian rebellions. The Sand Creek Massacre merely hastened the inevitable. The iron horse's crossing of Nebraska and the Black Hills would mean extermination of the bison herds; scores of new towns; an army of land-hungry cattlemen and farmers; and the death of the bison-and‑wild‑horse economy. From the North Platte to the Big Horns, war chiefs growled the challenge: "Fight for our sacred lands. Stop the white man's Great Iron Trail."

The crisis hurried two politically powerful groups to the stage terminals at Atchison, Kansas. Senators Foster of Connecticut and Doolittle of Wisconsin headed one party. A law student at Norwich University while Grenville Dodge studied there, Lafayette Sabine Foster had been elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives during the 1850's. Connecticut promoted him to the Senate. The week after Lincoln's assassination the Senate elected him its president pro tem as successor to Andrew Johnson. In effect, then, he was Vice-President, ex officio, of the United States. In May he volunteered to serve on a committee chaired by Doolittle that would "examine the conditions of the Indians and develop "a more intelligent and effective Indian policy."

An escort of a hundred cavalrymen — most of them Galvanized Yankees — jangled Foster and Doolittle down the Santa Fe Trail for a summerlong schedule of powwows. Within a month Doolittle was convinced that all the trouble was due to "the brutal and cowardly murder of the Cheyennes at Sand Creek; an affair in which the blame was on our side." Foster agreed. They summarily ordered Army commanders in the Arkansas Valley to "halt all operations" against the Indians. Their decision, related to Washington, became a factor in the enmity growing between President Johnson and Secretary of War Stanton.

These accusations of "warmongering" involved Grenville p180Dodge at Fort Leavenworth. "The Government must understand," Dodge wrote Grant, "that it will have to meet the problem of Indian warfare or abandon the Western country. There are 25,000 Indians on the plains, north and south. We need more troops, not less, for there are 5,000 teams that are trying to cross the plains each month, and it is my understanding that I am to protect this travel at all costs." As though in confirmation, Sioux and Arapaho raiders burned Julesburg, attacked four Army posts, and ambushed a 250‑wagon train near Fort Bent.

The second group assembling at Atchison on May 20 would prove more meaningful to the development of the Union Pacific and to the new treaties with the Indians than the Foster-Doolittle tour. The ostensible purpose was, as Samuel Bowles lavished it, "to see the country, to study its resources, to learn its people and their wants, and to acquit ourselves more intelligently thereby, each in our duties to the public." It was, in view of the group's composition, a gem of a purpose; one that should echo pleasantly in the Republican caucus rooms in 1868.

The group's leader was Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Another New Yorker who had migrated to Indiana, Colfax had followed the routine of newspaper editor to Congressman, then won the key post in the House in 1863. It was reasonably certain that Andrew Johnson would not be renominated in 1868. Mr. Colfax acknowledged his interest in inheriting the White House lease. Consequently he was embarking on this transcontinental tour during Congress' recess, not only to familiarize himself with the New West and its problems, but to exude his personality on its voters and perhaps on some campaign funds. Colfax was a strong advocate of the Pacific Railroad and a good friend of Oakes Ames. (If Ames had not already handed Speaker Colfax a small gift packet of Crédit Mobilier stock, he would soon.) Also Colfax was a Methodist and profanely opposed to polygamy. With p181the War over and the nation refocusing on the New West, he thought some spectacular publicity might be gained by resurrecting those Utah war stories about the Mormon elders' fondness for plural marriages. Editors from Springfield, Chicago and New York were in the party.

The tour was a maharajah's triumph. Ben Holladay provided a spanking new Concord coach. A few hours out of Atchison an eastbound stage passed along the report that 20 soldiers had just been ambushed near Fort Kearney and that another eastbound stage for Leavenworth was "sieved" during a 10‑mile running fight with Sioux. General Patrick E. Connor, who had recently threatened to shell the Latter-day Saints' Tabernacle unless Brigham Young obeyed his orders, was the party's guest on the ride to Julesburg. He gave "Mr. Speaker" a wealth of new anecdotes about Utah polygamy and the "despotic rule" of Brigham Young.

Through June and July, Colfax and the editors explored Colorado gold mines, shot bison, elk and antelope, marvelled at tales about the mineral and coal deposits in the Rockies, and attended a Brigham Young sermon in Salt Lake City's "bowery" auditorium. (That night Colfax lectured 1,500 Mormons about "the Life of Abraham Lincoln" and got in a few quotable licks against polygamy.) The newspaper dispatches from this hegira excited Easterners about the New West; some of the editors with Colfax turned authors, hence heralded the 1880‑1910 era of Western true-adventure books, travel lectures and dime-novels.

A ride up the 50 miles of Central Pacific's trackage during August converted Samuel Bowles, editor-owner of the Springfield, Massachusetts, Republican, as a champion of the Pacific Railroad. Reporting it in his dispatch of August 20, he gave warm praise to Ted Judah, but avoided mention of Stanford, Huntington, Crocker or Hopkins. He wrote:

The Judah, or Dutch Flat, route has got the name and means and is being pushed over the mountains with commendable vigor and rapidity. It is wise for California and the country alike to p182sustain it and secure its completion as early as possible . . . the company has used none of the United States bonds or lands granted by Congress in aid of the work. Some two and a half millions in these bonds are now due. The company can issue an equal amount of their own bonds guaranteed by a preceding or first mortgage; but none of these have yet been used. They also have available a million and a half of other bonds on which the State of California pays 7 per cent interest in gold for twenty years. Here are six millions and a half of good securities now on hand for prosecuting the work, beside what is earned as the road progresses, and the power to anticipate the issue of their own first mortgage bonds at the rate of forty eight thousand dollars for a mile of mountains and sixteen thousand dollars for a mile of plain, for one hundred miles in advance of construction.

The work has been done out of about a million of paid-up stock, and subscriptions of the County of Sacramento of three hundred thousands, the county of Placer of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and of San Francisco of four hundred thousand dollars, and the profits of that part of the road in running order. Of these sums, nearly half a million is still left, and the road has gone as far as to substantially secure a monopoly of all the business over the mountains, the profits on its completed section will be constantly increasing. Then, besides all this, there are between eighteen and nineteen millions of the twenty millions capital stock of the road, yet unsubscribed for. Sometime, though not at present, this will be paying property; and it may suffice even now for the profits of the contractors.

Thomas Durant's manipulations for Union Pacific and Crédit Mobilier were not proving as successful. During the fall of 1864, Secretary of the Interior Harlan introduced Durant to John Pondir, a New York broker. Pondir agreed to attempt organization of a syndicate of New York banks to raise a short-term — and high-interest — loan. In May, 1865, he delivered $1,000,000 to Union Pacific, with scrip on unearned government bonds — marked down to 90 per cent of par — accepted as collateral. Sometime during the summer Crédit Mobilier took in 35 more stockholders and increased its paid-in capital to $2,000,000. In all, Durant had only about enough to pay for the first 100 miles of track — less than half the distance p183to the 100th meridian. But he planned boldly. He ordered survey crews to explore the Colorado Rockies and the "Great Valley" into Salt Lake.

A group led by Samuel B. Reed rode straight through to Salt Lake City, held a series of conferences with Brigham Young and other Latter-day Saints leaders, and received assurance of Mormon grading crews and tie-hack gangs if and when construction reached the Wasatch canyons. Then Reed's chainmen signaled east into the Weber and Echo river gorges. The crew under James A. Evans ran a series of lines up the South Platte and the North Platte, then measured possible grades to Berthoud and the other passes behind Denver.

Each group totaled only 15 or 16 men. Their rations were flour, bacon, coffee, beans, hominy and dried fruit plus the game they picked off the job. Work hours lasted from sunup to sundown, six days a week; on Sundays they did the week's wash and repaired equipment. "Our bed," wrote Reed, "consists of Mother Earth and one good buffalo robe, one beaver robe consisting of several skins, for which I paid ten dollars, and my shawl with boots, coats and pants for pillows. Sometimes we sleep in a tent and sometimes out in the open air."

Both crews returned to Omaha in late November, without loss of a man or horse. Between them they had journaled details on 1,254 miles of "continuous instrumental line." Evans shared Peter Dey's 1864 conviction that a standard-gauge railroad could not build over the passes behind Denver unless mile after mile of tunnels were blasted through the cliffs; much of the construction, he reported, would cost more than $100,000 a mile. Reed was similarly dubious about building Union Pacific's main line into Salt Lake City. The best route ran north of Salt Lake, 50 miles from the Latter-day Saints' capital.

Both engineers passed their data on to Durant. Colorado's promises of "our limitless gold" to Union Pacific were based, of course, on the understanding that the Main Line would follow the South Platte into Denver, cross the Rockies to the p184Colorado River headwaters, and twist on to Salt Lake City. Brigham Young's promises of tie-hack and grading crews also anticipated that Salt Lake City would be a division point on Union Pacific, if not the meeting place for Central Pacific and Union Pacific. Both Reed and Evans were veteran engineers. A whisper about their data on the Denver and Salt Lake City terrain could set off howls in Congress that might delay construction for years; or hand the trans-Rockies contract to the Kansas Valley's "Eastern Division" Railroad.

During the same August week that Schuyler Colfax's party rode the Central Pacific to end-of‑track, Grenville Dodge left Fort Kearney on a scouting expedition into the Big Horn Mountains. The Crows, Sioux and Arapaho were reported to be rendezvousing there for raids against the Colorado and Nebraska settlements. The prevalence of bison and other game on the great upland ranges south and west of Fort Laramie convinced Dodge that the Indians would fight desperately against white settlements in the area. Then his cavalrymen panned gold dust and a few nuggets from creek beds near Powder River. This news, he knew, would puff to Mother Lode proportions during the gossip sessions in winter quarters at Leavenworth and Kearney. A gold rush into the Sioux "sacred land" might follow. Thus, he mused, the Union Pacific Railroad was confronted both by the Indian "red block" north of Fort Laramie and the mighty barrier of the Central Rockies behind Denver. An ideal solution would be discovery of a pass with an eastern face gradient of 100 feet to the mile, or less — somewhere between Fort Laramie and Denver.

Back at Fort Laramie again by mid-September, he decided to explore south toward Denver. His column reached the foot of Cheyenne Pass on the morning of the 22nd. Dodge ordered the wagon train and most of the cavalry to follow the Denver Trail along the valley floor as far as Crow Creek. Then, with the guide, Leon Pallady, and a dozen troopers, he would attempt to ride south along the Continental Divide's p185crest from the top of Cheyenne Pass. His patrol was 20 miles south of the Pass in late afternoon when Pallady called out, "Indians down there, and a lot of 'em." A moment's study through field glasses showed 300 or more Crow warriors spread along the slope below them. They had already cut off escape toward the wagon train and main body of cavalry on the valley floor. "They've likely followed us all day," Pallady concluded, "and aim to close in at night."

Dodge ordered dismount, sent the horses across the summit with three guards, deployed the rest of his men behind boulders and lit a signal fire. The Crows circled and began shooting. A band of fifty galloped off toward the top of the ridge, obviously under orders to "Get the horses." As dusk crept up the mountain Dodge and Pallady tossed leaves and pine needles on the fire until it blazed high in the open space before their hole-up. The Crows crept closer, and lost only three warriors in an open-field rush.

A bugle echoed from the valley, trailed by the clatter of a cavalry troop at full gallop. Amazed by the horses' speed up the slope, Dodge jumped to his feet and began shouting. The Crows hesitated, then loped back to their ponies and galloped off. A few minutes later Dodge led his patrol and their rescuers down the ridge. It descended generally to the valley floor at a gradient he estimated not to be more than 90 feet to the mile. Pulling up beside a lone pine tree at its base, Dodge announced, "Boys, I think we've discovered the pass for the Union Pacific." That night he named the top of the pass "Sherman Summit."

It was not coincidence that put Cump Sherman astraddle a nail keg two months later as guest of honor on the "Grand Excursion" of a locomotive and two flatcars to Union Pacific's end-of‑track. Accounts vary on the mileage laid by Silas Seymour's crews during the eight work months of 1865. Samuel Reed recalled that the tracks were 45 miles out of Omaha by Christmas Day — an average of 5½ miles a month. Seymour's p186ineffectiveness, plus the gravity of the Indian situation, convinced Durant that Sherman must be the guest of honor on that flatcar. The appointment of the General's brother Charles as one of Union Pacific's five Federal directors was a minor consideration. Profits for Crédit Mobilier would not be assured until Union Pacific beat the Eastern Division to the 100th meridian and clearly proved its right to assign construction contracts on west. This would mean a pace of more than a mile a day for tracklayers during the 1866 work season. Sam Reed had the leadership to take over as chief of construction. But there were the twin needs of protection from the Indians and a chief engineer who knew the terrain, had the tough executive ability to get along with work gangs and engineers, and was an Indian-fighter to boot. Grenville Dodge was such a man. Sherman and Dodge were staunch friends. Durant wanted Sherman's help in persuading Dodge to leave the Army and finally take over as Union Pacific's chief engineer.

Sherman had accepted the invitation to Omaha because he and Grant were swinging toward the conviction that the Pacific Railroad was "a military necessity." The West seemed destined as a theatre of war for decades and perhaps generations. Ever since the Army's high-plains pioneering by Generals Kearney, Scott and Harney, Army commanders had pursued the stupid course of chasing Indian horsemen with wagonloads of infantry drawn by ox or mule at 2 to 4 miles an hour. Congress had never appropriated funds to police the West with cavalry; it had come closest when it permitted Jeff Davis to experiment with the Camel Corps.a

A transcontinental railroad was the solution. Enough troops could be assigned to protect track gangs during the push union Utah. Once trains were running over the Rockies, troops could be transported 500‑600 miles overnight. The Pacific Railroad would become the Army's deadliest weapon with which to quell Indian uprisings and protect the massive flow of emigrants and goods between the Missouri and the Pacific.

Soon Durant had another strong pair of reasons for urging p187Sherman and Grant toward a decision on General Dodge. On February 8, 1866, he wrote the Casements of Painesville, Ohio, "Your proposition to the Union Pacific Railroad Company under date of Feb. 6 in relation to tracklaying is received and has been considered. The Company decides to regard your proposition and this acceptance as the agreement upon the subject."

Dan Casement had stayed home during the Civil War to fulfil the grading and repair contracts he and brother Jack had undertaken in 1859 and 1860. Jack Casement began the war as a major, won his colonelcy by turning the Union rout at the Battle of Cross Lanes in West Virginia, then was brevetted a brigadier general after leading savage assaults against Hood's lines at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. Home again, he brooded over newspaper accounts about Union Pacific's dawdling, and harangued Dan about making a bid for the 1866 tracklaying contract. Dan demurred until they hit on the notion of building a train that would be a town on wheels complete with bunk cars, tool cars, commissary, blacksmith shop, and a tailpiece of flatcars loaded with rail, spikes, shovels, crowbars and blasting powder. Historically, although the Casements never claimed the credit, this was the invention of the railroad work train. Durant recognized its merits, recalled the Casements' performance on the Michigan Central and Lake Shore railroads, and quickly reached the decision of his February 8th letter.

[image ALT: A photograph of a man of stocky build wearing work clothes including a winter cap and a heavy jacket. He stands in front of a railroad boxcar, and carries a whip in his right hand. It is General John S. Casement of the Union Pacific Railroad, ca. 1868.]

General "Jack" Casement. Union Pacific Railroad

Spring came. The Casements' town on wheels clanged into being on the Omaha siding. Timber crews crossed flooded fields 100 miles north and south to begin razing every tree usable for crossties and bridge timbers. The nod came from the War Department. Grenville Dodge and Thomas Durant met in St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 24. By dinnertime Major General Dodge was on "prolonged leave of absence" to serve as chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad & Telegraph p188Company at a salary of $10,000 a year, plus a small bundle of Crédit Mobilier stock. (It was felt expedient to make the stock out in Mrs. Dodge's name.)

The next two months would make or break the Union Pacific.


Thayer's Note:

a See Chapter 7 for the author's quick summary of the Camel Corps; and my notes there for several detailed articles on it.


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Page updated: 16 Oct 13